DECEMBER 17, 2009
As the Maoists further destabilize Nepal by declaring local autonomies and the creation of a renegade parallel government, India and China are wooing Nepal’s central government with pledges of military assistance.
On December 6, a Chinese military delegation had separate meetings in Kathmandu with Defense Minister Bidhya Bhandari and Foreign Minister Sujata Koirala. The leader of the delegation, Lt. Gen. Shu Yutai reaffirmed China’s continued military assistance to the Nepal Army.
On December 16, a second Chinese delegation visited Nepal Army headquarters, where a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by Major General Jia Jialing and acting Chief of Nepal Army Toran Jung Bahadur Singh. The document specifies that China will provide “non-lethal” military hardware including logistics and training for the Nepal Army – assistance worth approximately 220 million Nepali rupees (over 3,000,000 US dollars). The delegation also invited Defense Minister Bhandari and Defense Secretary Navin Ghimire to Beijing for a follow-up meeting.
This comes at a time when India has announced that it will resume supplying military hardware to Nepal, which had been discontinued following King Gyanendra’s takeover of the government in 2005. In fact, Nepal’s new army chief, General Chhatraman Singh Gurung, is in the middle of an eight-day visit to Delhi, where he has been feted and, in return, hosted a banquet for the Indian Army Chief at the Nepal Embassy.
On December 14, General Gurung received the honorary rank of “General of the Indian Army”, a title personally conferred to him by India’s president, Pratibha Patil.
(Defense Minister A K Antony, Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor, Indian Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal P V Naik and Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma and Defence Secretary Pradeep Kumar were also in attendance at the ceremony.)
On December 15, the general had a private follow-up meeting with Defense Minister A. K. Antony, during which they discussed ways to enhance the defense cooperation between the two countries. According to one unnamed defense official, counter-insurgency and recent Maoist maneuvers were at the top of the agenda.
The Indian Army, which has about 40,000 Nepali Gurkhas in its ranks, also resumed recruitment in Nepal this year, after a hiatus of nearly two years.
The question many analysts are asking is: How does this Sino-Indian increase in military assistance affect Nepal’s stability?
In a recent speech written by Dr. Katak Malla (who originally delivered it as a lecture at the Swedish Association of International Affairs in Stockholm and was consequently reprinted in Republica), he pointed out that Nepal’s domestic instability “provides opportunities for the external actors to intervene in its domestic affairs….Officially, both China and India insist that they do not interfere in the internal affairs of Nepal. At the same time, the Indian government openly implied that it did not like the idea of a Maoist-led government in Nepal and the Chinese leaders wonder why the Maoist government did not last long enough.”
Dr. Malla goes on to recount Nepal’s recent history in terms of the tug-of-war between India and China:
“The military buildup is ongoing at the borders on both sides of the Himalayas by China and India despite decades of initiatives to normalize relations between the two countries. The Indian fighter airplanes are flying over the sky of Nepal, according to some Nepali news media. Nepal’s rulers are helpless and hesitant either to confirm or confront such flagrant violations of its sovereignty. The past record suggests that the China-India military competition and conflict has paved the way - if not played the role - pushing Nepal’s democracy backward nearly thirty years. In the 1950s and 1960s, China was pro-Soviet Union while India was counting on the US support against China during the 1962 war, but received none. Prior to the 1962 China-India war, Nepal’s first democratically elected government was replaced with the Panchayat regime by the then king Mahendra, lasting until 1990 and disrupting democratic development for nearly three decades. After the China-India war, there was a cozy relation between the regimes in Nepal and China. The Chinese supported the king’s rule. India was concerned about democracy after the dissolution of the first elected government in Nepal, but democracy was no longer important after the Chinese military assaults on India. Mahendra used short-term tactics with the two neighbors for his regime’s survival. Notable among such tactics at the cost of the long-term national interest was the signing of the1965 defense pact with India, which limited Nepal’s right to buy arms from any country.
“Mahendra’s successor [King] Birendra bought some anti-aircraft guns from China in the late 1980s, which was opposed by India, blockading Nepal nearly one year (1989-1990). The Panchayat regime ended in 1990 as a result of the internal demand for democracy, coinciding with arms import from China. India supported Nepal’s democratic movement in 1990 for its own interest, but derailed the democratic development being involved in the frequent change of governments in Nepal. The political leadership failed practicing democracy; the Maoist war 1996-2005 was a cause as well as consequence of it. Nepal’s leaders served the interest of the neighbors to remain in power.”
Another question: How does the new Sino-Indian military assistance affect the Nepal Army?
Apart from the obvious point – that it leaves the army better equipped – the deals come with tacit approvals from both Beijing and Delhi, i.e. that they condone what the Nepal Army stands for – stability – particularly in light of the fact that the Maoists have entered into more revolutionary-like tactics with their ongoing strikes, continuation of illegal land grabs, threats to return to insurgency, creation of autonomous regions and finally, the promise of launching of a parallel government. Their actions are in violation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and seem to be designed to liquidate the current government, the members of which were elected in the 2008 National Elections. Apparently, the Maoists have given up all pretenses of supporting a democratic practice, while the Nepal Army has remained consistently and reliably steadfast.
China has no appetite for a resumption of a protracted Maoist armed-struggle in Nepal; it doesn’t serve their economic or political interests. India would certainly like to see the Maoists brought to heel. And Nepal’s struggling central government’s past willingness to bow to Maoist bullying seems to be rapidly vanishing.
Nevertheless, the Maoists have drawn a line in the sand as if their belligerence existed in an international vacuum. As history has shown time and again, all political ploys in landlocked Nepal are, sooner or later, subject to international ramifications. Intentionally or not, the Maoists’ latest maneuverings – by their very existence – extend beyond Nepal’s northern and southern boundaries… and the foreign stakes grow higher.